Response | Book of Abraham |

Did Joseph Smith Know Egyptian?

In a letter addressed to Grant S. Heward of Midvale, Utah, an outspoken critic of the book of Abraham, William Foxwell Albright, the doyen of American ancient Near Eastern studies, wrote:
There does appear to be evidence that Joseph Smith had studied some Egyptian. For one thing, he undoubtedly spent a great deal of money and effort in trying to master Egyptian, but, as you know, when the Book of Mormon was written, Egyptian had just begun to be deciphered and it is all the more surprising that there are two Egyptian names, Paanch and Pahor(an) which appear together in the Book of Mormon in close connection with a reference to the original language as being "Reformed Egyptian."
Albright is mistaken about Joseph Smith having "studied some Egyptian," for no materials were available to him for such studies when the Book of Mormon was published; thus the Prophet had to rely on divine inspiration in translating the Nephite record. But the letter, dated 25 July 1966, reveals Albright's scholarly opinion that the appearance of Egyptian in the Book of Mormon is remarkable. Albright's closing paragraph is also revealing:
I do not for a moment believe that Joseph Smith was trying to mislead anyone; I accept the point of view of a Jewish friend of mine at the University of Utah [probably Louis C. Zucker], that he was a religious genius and that he was quite honest in believing that he really could decipher these ancient texts. But to insist that he did [mislead] is really doing a disservice to the cause of a great church and its gifted founder.
The letter was located in the Klaus Baer correspondence file at the University of Chicago by FARMS researcher Boyd Petersen. Hugh Nibley, emeritus professor of ancient studies at BYU, was the first to point out the Egyptian nature of the Book of Mormon names Paanchi and Pahoran.